BURLINGTON — The state is reviewing its COVID-19 restaurant requirements to potentially allow more flexibility for dining after it previously told Railroad Pub and Pizza its open-air dining room failed to meet safety rules.
The pizza restaurant in Burlington had been using five large garage door-size windows to ventilate its dining room in an effort to meet the state’s requirements for outdoor dining.
Gov. Jay Inslee banned indoor dining in mid-November to slow the spread of COVID-19 and has twice extended the ban.
Railroad Pub and Pizza owner Nick Crandall said despite the wind and cold, the open-air dining option had been popular and helped the restaurant stay afloat.
“You could come and fly a kite in here there is so much wind,” he said Tuesday.
Crandall received a letter last week from the state Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) informing him that his dining arrangement did not comply with the state’s outdoor seating rules, and that he may be cited and fined for violating the indoor dining ban.
L&I spokesperson Tim Church said Tuesday the state had received complaints that the business was not following requirements, and followed up with a spot-check at the restaurant before sending the letter.
Church said Railroad Pub and Pizza’s seating arrangement consisted of a permanent structure with four walls. He said while there were large openings in the walls, the state’s rules permit only temporary structures with up to three walls.
In an emailed statement Tuesday, L&I acknowledged that the state’s rules aren’t a perfect fit in every situation.
“We are working with the Department of Health now to review the restaurant requirements, looking at different arrangements that may allow for safer, well-ventilated dining,” the statement said. “This particular situation is likely one of those we will look at as part of that review.”
A number of restaurants throughout the state have reopened for indoor dining in defiance of Inslee’s order.
Restaurants can be fined $9,639 a day for willfully violating the indoor dining ban, Church said.
Crandall said the restaurant closed for dining Monday and is now offering only takeout. He said he worries about potential fines and other penalties, such as losing his liquor license, but doesn’t blame other establishments for reopening.
“I’m proud to see people with their doors open,” he said.
Crandall said he is frustrated that big-box stores have been able to operate freely and make large profits while restaurants had to close.
“For some reason, they’re open and I’m not,” he said. “I’m doing less business and hurting more.”
Crandall recently built an outdoor shelter at his other Burlington restaurant, the Train Wreck Bar and Grill, after being temporarily closed. He said the two restaurants employ 70 and support the work of many vendors.
He said it’s a hardship on a restaurant to keep closing and reopening.
“I don’t see any of the government people talking to local business people figuring out how to help,” he said. “You want to shut down (restaurants), they better give people some money, and it shouldn’t be a rat race to be part of it.”
Under Inslee’s new regional reopening plan, which was released Tuesday, regions can move to Phase 2 and resume indoor dining at 25% capacity once they meet health criteria.
Crandall said “anything helps” but even indoor dining at 50% capacity is a challenge.
Church said he is sympathetic to businesses affected by shutdowns and COVID-19 restrictions.
“I fully understand that people are looking for ways to try to continue to keep their businesses going during this tough situation,” he said.